GE ’24: North Antrim Constituency Profile…

This was the fourth safest Westminster constituency in Northern Ireland in 2019, with 12,721 votes separating the winner, Ian Paisley Jr (DUP) from the second placed Robin Swann (UUP). Paisley took over the seat from his father. It has been in the family for 52 years. It had always been held by a unionist since it was created in 1885.

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The changes made to the constituency boundaries last November were not substantial


Jim Allister, TUV

Helen Maher, SDLP

Philip McGuigan, Sinn Féin

Ráichéal Mhic Niocaill, Aontú

Jackson Minford, UUP

Tristan Morrow, Independent

Sian Mulholland, Alliance

Ian Paisley, DUP

Candidates’ Electoral History

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Vote shares by designation

There were no changes to the boundaries between 2010 and 2023.

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Please note that some Local Government electoral areas cross constituency boundaries which means that the LG figures have been estimated.

Unionists have trended down by 10% points. Nationalists have departed slightly up and down from an essential flat trend line. Others have increased by 10% points assisted by a peak at the last Westminster election.

There appears there may have been tactical voting by some nationalists at that election, worth 2 or 3% points, in favour of Alliance.

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Vote share by party in Assembly and Local Government Elections

In the majority of constituencies there is an element of tactical voting in Westminster elections. Changes in the underlying strength of the principal parties within a constituency can best be understood by looking at their performance in other elections.

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Apart from UKIP’s 3% in Assembly 2016, no other party has achieved more than 1% in any of these elections. Independent unionists and nationalists have each occasionally totalled up to 4% in Council elections, as shown below.

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Over the period the DUP share has plummeted, trending down 19% points. Its vote was below 30% in the last two elections.

The TUV is up 8%, and the UUP 3%. Both parties received a major boost in the last Assembly election. The UUP’s 21% was the highest of recent times and was widely attributed to the personal popularity of their candidate, the Health Minister Robin Swann, in the immediate shadow of Covid. Less remarked was that the 21% recorded for the TUV was the highest the party had ever received. Remember this was while the DUP and TUV were still best mates over the Protocol.

Perhaps the 2022 result points as much to a brittleness in the DUP vote in this constituency as to the popularity of a Minister or the unpopularity of the Sea Border. If so, this could be significant for the coming election.

The Sinn Féin trend is up 8% points and the SDLP down 6%.

Alliance is up 8%.

Vote share in Westminster elections

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The DUP performance in 2019 was distinctly underwhelming and reflects the steep decline seen in other elections. Whereas in 2010 and 2017 there were definite signs in the figures of significant UUP tactical voting for the DUP, in 2019 the UUP vote actually came in a little above the level it achieved in the same year’s Council elections. Maybe UUP voters were no longer inclined to give Ian Paisley Jr a tactical or personal vote after his seven-week suspension the previous year from the House of Commons.

The DUP vote in 2019 was only 1% point higher than in it had been in 2010. This is despite the fact that the TUV, which had achieved 17% in 2010, was not on the ballot paper in 2019.

Both Alliance and Sinn Féin will be looking at the SDLP’s 7% and estimating their chances to attract tactical votes.


The boundary changes

Calculating the effects of changes to constituency boundaries is not straightforward since there is no record of precisely how past votes for each party were distributed geographically. Necessarily this involves estimates and assumptions, and these may differ. For many years the UK media have all used the calculations provided by two academics, Rallings and Thrasher, to provide a notional result of how each constituency would have voted at the previous general election if the latest boundaries had been in force. For Northern Ireland their inputs are provided by Nicholas Whyte. These will be the base from which the media will report voting swings when constituency results are declared.

I used different assumptions for my own calculations of the notional vote which resulted in slightly different outcomes. In the following chart the Actual result in 2019 is compared with my estimate and the R&T estimate.

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Normally the two estimates are similar. In this case there is a noticeable difference. The Rallings and Thrasher figure adds about 1,000 votes to the notional DUP majority, while mine subtracts over 1,100.

However, the nominal 2019 results are of little relevance in the upcoming contest since the TUV, which is likely to be the DUP’s main challenger, did not stand here last time.

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In addition to money, the other key resource for an election campaign is the level of constituency work running up to the campaign, and the manpower available in the campaign itself. When it comes to constituency work MP’s and MLA’s have the advantage of an allowance for constituency offices and for a staffing. The amount of staffing money is specified, but MP’s and MLA’s can choose to allocate it to fewer higher-paid staff or a greater number of lower-paid staff.

When it comes to manpower for canvassing and leafleting a party’s elected representatives normally form the core of the group available. Party’s may also choose to bring in helpers from neighbouring constituencies which they have no hope of winning.

The Index Total for each party gives some idea of the relative strength of each party locally.

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The DUP resource has been significantly depleted since the 2019 election, with the loss of one MLA and three Councillors. The UUP and SDLP have both suffered, attrition while Sinn Féin enjoyed a useful improvement.

But the biggest improvement was the MLA gain by Alliance, plus an additional Councillor.

However, the important point is that, even weakened, the DUP will still have the biggest local party machine on the ground in this constituency.

Factors possibly assisting the DUP

28.9% points ahead of UUP at the last election.

Greater strength of the local party machine.

Could TUV intervention assist DUP to squeeze several points from the UUP vote? Could be worth up to 5% points based on comparing UUP Westminster and Assembly votes in 2017.

Change of UUP candidate. Swann got 11% points more in 2019 than the UUP’s candidate in 2017 – the same Jackson Minford who is their candidate this time.

Factors possibly harming the DUP

The TUV could subtract up to 21% points share from DUP, at the TUV’s 2022 Assembly vote share. The TUV took 17% in the 2010 Westminster election and 16% in 2015 when it last stood. This week’s LucidTalk poll shows the TUV on 5%, in the same ballpark as the 6.2% they scored in the Assembly election in those constituencies that they are contesting this time.

Total unionist vote decline. This is not a straightforward factor. Between 2019 and 2023 Council elections there was 5% point fall. However, there was no corresponding fall in the 2022 Assembly election, so it is possible that the Council election decline had other causes. What is interesting is that the decline affected the DUP, the UUP and unionist Independents equally, whereas the TUV registered a slight increase. This factor could subtract around a further 2% points from the previous DUP share.

Factors possibly assisting TUV

Capable of achieving at least 21% share. As in Assembly 2022.

Media likely to present Allister as the main challenger to the DUP, not the UUP.

Link to a GB party. It is noticeable that “Reform UK” is more prominent on their party campaign logo than “TUV”. The TUV clearly expects the link to enhance their candidates’ credibility and potentially prove an attraction to unionist voters who wish to vote for a UK party. But this may have been weakened or negated by Nigel Farage when he voiced his support for Ian Paisley.

TUV unaffected by the general decline of other unionist parties in the last Council election.

Factors possibly harming TUV

DUP likely to have greater local campaigning resources.

Factors possibly assisting the UUP

There is nothing in the data which points to an upside for the UUP since 2019.

Factors possibly harming the UUP

Change of candidate. Moving Swann to another constituency will be seen as admission by the UUP that they have no prospect of winning in North Antrim. This will free/encourage UUP supporters to consider voting tactically for other parties, with possible benefit to DUP, TUV and Alliance. Could subtract up to 11% points from UUP share. See the DUP section above, comparing UUP 2019 and 2017 vote shares.

Decline in base vote. Council vote 2023 down 2% points on 2019.


The balance of possibilities is very strong that the contest will be between the DUP and TUV. On a bad day for the DUP, and a good day for the TUV, there could be just a couple of percentage points between them. In those circumstances the DUP probably still has the edge, but a narrow TUV victory cannot be ruled out.

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